The final steps of a five-month, 3,000-mile journey for a Mullica Hill man came Monday morning with the last few miles of a trans-continental run to raise awareness for organ donation.
Chris Praetzel has been running several dozen miles a day since May, from Santa Monica, Calif., to Atlantic City. He completed his journey Monday with a walk into the 70-degree surf.
Praetzel said he had contemplated the run to honor his brother Brian, who received a kidney transplant as a 3-year-old in 1996, for more than two years. He said no one took the idea seriously until he purchased a plane ticket in January.
“I figured once I did that, there’s no going back,” he said as he stood Monday on the side of Route 40 near the Atlantic City border with several police officers, before completing the final few miles of his journey.
The run was designed to raise awareness for the Gift of Life Donor Program, a nonprofit organ and tissue transplant network that serves Delaware, Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey. More than 6,500 people are currently awaiting life-saving organ transplants across the region, according to AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center.
“We applaud Chris for his commitment to raising awareness about the importance of organ donation and for paying the gift to his brother forward,” said Pam Peterson, ARMC’s clinical director of critical care.
Praetzel’s cross-country run — which started May 23, five days after his college graduation — through dangerous heat, difficult terrain and presented numerous risks as he made his way on foot. He was mostly on his own as he pushed a baby stroller with his belongings and enough food and water to get through each day.
While running through the Mojave Desert, which had to be done at night to avoid the worst of the summer heat, Praetzel was stopped twice by police, who had been summoned by worried motorists who thought he was “a maniac pushing a baby at night.”
The second night, he said, officers brought him Gatorade and a California Highway Patrol hat.
While running through national forest land in Colorado, a woman gave Praetzel bear repellent spray, warning him of the potentially dangerous wildlife.
As he prepared to take the final steps, Praetzel said the end of the journey seemed surreal as he reflected on the difficulties of the journey and the act of trying to put a face on the cause of organ donation.
“I really want people to understand organ donation, that it’s not really about me doing this, it’s about trying to be able to talk about organ donation. It’s such a such a simple thing to do, to check a box on your license, but over half the people in this country don’t.”
Staff Writer Wallace McKelvey contributed to this report.
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